Security Director News: The Realities of Fighting Retail Crime

September 28, 2010 | Coverage

Security Director News

New Online Resource Helps Police Tackle 'Unsolvable Cases,' Build Better Relationships

ROSEVILLE, Calif. - Retail crime is a $36.5 billion problem in the U.S., but here in Roseville, Calif., a community of more than 112,000 residents, retail crime is especially damaging to the local economy. “We’ve basically survived the economic drought because we have a solid foundation of retailers in this area,” said Darin DeFreece, detective sergeant for the Roseville Police Department. “We recognize how important the retail component is to the health of our city and as result of that we’ve shifted our focus to crushing crime and developing relationships with retailers.”

Retail crime, particularly organized retail crime, continues to be a major problem in this area and combating such groups is financially straining for retailers and law enforcement alike. While it’s true that the police department must rely largely on the internal investigation capabilities of retailers to collect and correlate information on potential criminal rings, DeFreece emphasizes that retailers aren’t in this battle alone. “We rely on businesses to do a really good job and basically present a case to us, but when we talk to them, we tell them they are our counterparts and not our vassals just bringing us information,” he said.

Developing these relationships is critical to this effort as is the ability to share information among retailers and law enforcement. DeFreece said when he joined the police department, sharing information was very labor intensive and antiquated, basically the equivalent of calling loss prevention managers and inquiring about case facts. However, recently, Roseville police and local retailers have begun using an online software program that streamlines the information-sharing process. The program, called CrimeDex, was developed by 3VR, a manufacturer of searchable video products, as a way to share, search, and leverage relevant information on criminal activity.

Retailers and police both have the ability to enter and access crime information on the system. For example, a loss prevention manager may enter the license plate number of a suspected ORC participant. The system will scan other entries in the system to see if that license plate has any matches. DeFreece said the police recently used the system to solve a case that he would previously have categorized as unsolvable.

After a man robbed a large department store, threatening a store employee with a knife, DeFreece entered a picture of the suspect into the CrimeDex system and sent it to members as an email blast. Two days later DeFreece got a call from a parole officer in Sacramento, about 20 miles from Roseville, saying the parole officer recognized the man and actually had him in the office. The man was immediately arrested and now faces several years in prison on a felony burglary conviction.

“That case would not have been solved without this tool, period,” said DeFreece. Previously, such a snapshot of a suspect would “get filed away and nothing would happen.”

This tool has enabled police to solve more crimes and fostered new, productive relationships among retailers and law enforcement. “We’re all operating like little islands and this allows us to still operate business as usual for our own companies, but now we’ve built bridges to these islands and we can cross as much as we want to, and that relationship is critical,” he said.

The department has been fortunate to hire two interns who monitor and update the CrimeDex system on a daily basis, he said. However, even to do this, he sought assistance from retailers to provide interns with workstations. This partnership is what it takes to proactively address retail crime. “It becomes a collaborative effort and we’re all able to help one another out,” he said. “Retailers have some resources that we don’t, and, in turn, I have a lot of resources that they don’t.”

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